A Pre-Mortem on Republican Losses in 2006 Midterms
Charles Krauthammer has an excellent analysis of what to make of the losses the Republicans are expected to suffer five days from now.
Substantial, yes. Historic, no. Before proclaiming a landslide, one has to ask Henny Youngman’s question: “Compared to what?” (His answer to: “How’s your wife?”) Since the end of World War II, the average loss for a second-term presidency in its sixth year has been 29 House seats and six Senate seats. If you go back to Franklin Roosevelt’s second term, the House loss average jumps to 35. Thus a 25/6 House and Senate loss would be about (and slightly below) the historical average.
Yes, the campaign has been nationalized. But will the results be? In the House, a good five seats (Bob Ney, Tom DeLay, Don Sherwood, Mark Foley, Curt Weldon) are likely to be lost to scandals having nothing to do with Bush or Iraq. Of the losing Senate races, only Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island and Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania can be said to be dying for the sins of their party.
The other races, if lost, will be lost largely for local reasons. In Ohio, the state is rocked by an enormous Republican scandal at the gubernatorial level that is taking the whole party down with it, Sen. Mike DeWine included. In Montana, Conrad Burns is in trouble because of his association with Jack Abramoff, not George Bush. In Virginia, a state that should not even be in play, George Allen has run the worst campaign in living memory, stumbling onto one ethnic land mine after another — “macaca,” the Yiddish mama, N-word allegations. And in New Jersey, the one Democratic seat that could conceivably go the other way and save Senate control for the Republicans, the drag on Sen. Bob Menendez is the very nonnational issue of official corruption.
Aside from noting that Burns has been damned near as inept as Allen in addition to the corruption issue and that Santorum is not only ideologically against the tide in his state but running against the son of an immensely popular and recently departed moderate Democrat governor, that’s almost dead on.
That’s not to say that the Iraq War, Abramoff/K-Street Project scandals, and the general perception of the Congressional Republicans as moribund are not playing a significant role in the poll numbers. Krauthammer acknowledges as much. He’s right, though, that losses in the 25/6 neighborhood would be incredibly mild given all that since they are below what one might expect under even favorable circumstances six years into a presidential term.
UPDATE: One wonders whether this says more about the Republican Party’s emergence as a natural “majority” party (in the sense of being the favorites to win the presidency and majorities in both Houses of Congress in a first-past-the past system, rather than 50 percent plus one) or the awesome feebleness of the Democratic Party in capitalizing on an amazing opportunity to win a huge number of seats.
This is not to dismiss real problems with the GOP leadership or success of the Democrats at at least making the negative case as to why the Republicans should no longer govern. I’ve written before about the institutional advantages the Republicans have, especially in the House, that makes losing the majority noteworthy. Still, the sheer confluence of events pointing to defeat for the Republicans should be enough to create a tidal wave of 50 or more seats in the House. That simply doesn’t look like it’s going to happen.